This weekend the wood shed and the discovery of its unique ecosystem kept me busy. To make room for an impending delivery of logs to feed the wood burner throughout the winter, space needed to be created. When I first moved into the house six years ago the wood shed was full to the top with logs, but the resource had been depleted over the years.
Over the summer months the wood shed had become a depository for large items which should have been taken to the tip. Beneath a broken bicycle, deflated football, discarded garden furniture and a bald christmas tree lay a dozen logs lying on a heap of sawdust. I picked up a log and it disintegrated into my hands, a victim of wet rot fungi. Further probing inside the log with a stick revealed a long deceased beetle carcass with huge jaw-like mandibles similar to a stag’s antlers, a distinct feature of the stag beetle.
Stag beetles are harmless wood boring insects which spend several years as white grubs before they gain enough energy to emerge as beetles. Females lay their eggs near decaying wood about one foot below ground and the developing larvae feed on this rotting wood for between three and seven years. There were no signs of any live stag beetles in the dusty wood pile- they must have long flown the nest.
Threat to habitat, such as the removal of decaying logs in parks and gardens, may have contributed to the decline of stag beetles. My house lies on the edge of woods which has plenty of fallen and decaying logs and I would be interested to discover if there are any stag beetle’s in the vicinity.
Stag Beetle Facts
- The male stag beetle jaws are used for fighting and wrestling with other males over territories and food.
- All males appear to have huge antlers, almost half the size again of their body.
- There are around 1,200 species in this beetle family worldwide, with some species reaching a respectable 12cm in length.
- The Stag Beetle is Britain’s largest native ground-dwelling beetle. In the UK adult females can be up to 5cm long and some males may reach 7cm.
- Stag Beetles can fly. Males will fly out to look for a mate at dusk on humid evenings between May and August.
- Because stag beetles often fly on close, airless evenings they were believed in mediaeval times to summon thunderstorms.
- Stag Beetle larvae are a gardener’s friend. They eat rotting wood, returning important minerals to the soil, but don’t eat living plants or shrubs.
- Stag Beetles were also called billywitches, oak-ox, thunder beetle and horse pincher.